The characters of the Christmas story are a diverse lot, and reveal to us the heart of Jesus for us today! Jesus is for you and He loves you more than you can imagine. Look with me for a moment at seven Christmas observations:
1. Mary—Jesus for Dreaming Hearts. Mary was a young girl with nothing but dreams. Jesus was a disruption to her dreams, but in Himself, a BETTER dream. Jesus doesn’t come to kill our dreams, nor fulfill them… He comes to give us new dreams. He comes to show that He is the dream and He’s a better dream.
Mary surrendered everything to embrace the will of God. She chose Jesus over Joseph, knowing that Joseph would likely not believe her story. With no guarantees, she believed Jesus was the better dream, and she said “…be it unto me according to thy word.”
2. Joseph—Jesus for Confused Hearts. Joseph received news that his bride-to-be was expecting a child, and he was certain it wasn’t his. Imagine the confusion—the emotional perplexity that must have crushed his heart. He deliberated. He wanted to handle things properly—respectfully towards Mary, honorably towards God, carefully for his own name.
In the midst of his confusion, after his wrong decision, God provided clarity, just in time. This is what God does. He directs us, but only on His time-table, after we’ve demonstrated a seeking, listening heart. If I’m seeking His will, even when confused, He will not let me make a wrong turn.
3. Magi—Jesus for Searching Hearts. The magi of Persia were counting the years, for centuries, in accordance with the writings of Daniel (their legendary, 100% accurate predecessor.) They knew the Messiah would be cut off 483 years (Daniel 9) after the command to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1-2). They KNEW Jesus was coming. They knew He was more than an earthly King, but indeed the King of Kings. They knew He would die a sacrificial death for sins (Daniel 9), and in spite of their education, power, wealth, and ethnicity, they gladly worshipped this Jewish child—whom they would otherwise despise. They knew Him to be God in the flesh, as foretold.
These intellectual, well-connected, politically powerful astrologers were intellectually honest with the truth. They didn’t dismiss Him or reshape Him—they accepted Him, regardless of the cost! Faith is not irrational. In fact, Christianity is the most rational explanation of life as we know it—deeper thinking and questioning always reveals this to be absolutely true. All searching, all desire, all truth-seeking ends at JESUS—He is the LOGOS—the sum total of all truth, all reason, all meaning! (John 1)
4. Simeon and Anna—Jesus for Enduring Hearts. Simeon was given an assignment to wait—he would not die until He saw the Christ. God literally said, your job is to stay alive and wait. Anna, much the same, had lost her husband after just seven short years of marriage, and had spent the better part of more than 60 years as a widow. Both characters were assigned by God with the mission of enduring with patient waiting. They did so with devotion, with service, with optimistic faith and hope. They accepted the assignment to endure. And finally, in an epic instant, the wait was over! Both celebrated the arrival of Jesus and the end of their wait!
Even so, in your waiting season, God may simply require you to endure with gladness. Accept your “wait” as His divine assignment, and hold on to the hope that in one wonderful, unexpected moment, your wait will come to a dramatic, joy-filled end! Then, you will say, “My wait was well worth it!”
5. Shepherds—Jesus for Ordinary Hearts. At the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum, these guys were the most ordinary, unspectacular characters. Their days were spent in monotonous redundancy on obscure hillsides. They were a dirty, smelly subculture unto themselves, not even allowed into the temple. Their simplicity was disrupted by eternity! Their obscurity became center-stage for Divinity! Their darkness exploded in light!
Jesus reaches as far as He can reach—to the most obscure, the messiest, the most broken, and the most marginalized. And He does so in spectacular fashion with good news, great joy, and good will! Jesus brings good news into my broken world of incessant bad news. Jesus brings great joy into my otherwise monotonous darkness of an existence. Jesus brings good will into my otherwise “going nowhere” life. He compels me to run to Him, and having seen Him, I cannot stay silent!
6. Herod—Jesus for Threatened Hearts. Magi from Persia, and all of their imposing entourage, set Herod and all Jerusalem into quite an uproar! Gentiles from a neighboring power journeying into an already politically charged and unstable region, proclaiming the arrival of an eternal king—this is enough to keep a local king up at night sweating bullets!
Herod was threatened by Jesus, and so the darkest part of the Christmas story unfolds. The wholesale slaughter of young children across the region. Sounds like many of today’s headlines. Given the opportunity, Jesus would have saved Herod too.
Jesus steps into a messy world with the promise that one day, with final authority, He will establish a kingdom of everlasting righteousness. No more slaughter. No more fear. No more death and destruction. His kingdom is what matters—it’s the only thing that matters. Anything that compels me to live for His kingdom is a good thing. Anything else is a distraction. What I most needs in my new year is a passion for His kingdom, and a looser grip on my own!
7. Me—Jesus for Messy Hearts. You probably never considered that you are a part of the Christmas story—in many places actually! “A light to lighten the gentiles…” (That’s most likely you.) “He shall save His people from their sins” (Hopefully that’s you too.) “As many as received Him…” (You?) “of His kingdom there shall be no end.” (If you receive Him, you’re there too!) “all generations shall call me blessed…” (That’s us.) “Emmanuel… God with us…” (Us!)
I don’t deserve Jesus. Neither do you. I have issues, and so do you. Phillip Yancey said it well, “…think of how difficult it must have been for Jesus. He was around people who were making all these wrong, selfish choices. Imagine what it’s like to be perfect yet to reach out with grace. What a lesson. It’s astonishing how he avoided saying, ‘I’d love to get off this planet.’ He never seemed offended by people who would offend us.”
We are messy, but He still loves us! Amazing!
Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been—Jesus is STILL GOOD NEWS, GREAT JOY, and GOOD WILL to you. He is FOR YOU, and He loves you more than you can imagine!
PS—this post summarizes our December sermon series, Jesus for You, at Emmanuel Baptist Church, which can be listened to here or via the iTunes Podcast.